Gbaku, Konko

1884-1911
Traditional Religionist
Sierra Leone

Bombo Lahai (Bombolai) Konko Gbaku (who ruled from about 1884 to 1911) was the third paramount chief of Tonko Limba. Much of his reign was spent waging a prolonged war with the Soso, and he is best remembered in Limba country for his efforts to repulse the attacks of Karimu, a powerful Soso chief.

Konko Gbaku was probably quite young when he succeeded Keleha Horo of Madina to the chiefship in the early l880s, and may have served in the regime of the warrior chiefs of that territory. His reign witnessed a remarkable incursion of European influences into Tonko Limba. The Wesleyan Methodists established a mission station at Forecaria, then the principal town of the chiefdom; and in October 1889 Konko Gbaku signed a treaty with the British who were intent on outmaneuvering French efforts to secure Sierra Leone’s northern hinterland for themselves.

Differences with neighboring rulers continued throughout Konko’s reign, but the most protracted conflict was with Karimu, chief of Samaya, who accused the Tonko Limba people of harboring slaves who had escaped from their Soso owners. As early as the l830s when Bilali had settled in Tonko Limba with his fellow fugitives from slavery, it had served as a home for these displaced persons. Continuing this long-standing dispute, Karimu launched frequent attacks against Tonko Limba in order to retrieve the runaways. Konko Gbaku, in his attempts to withstand these invasions, enlisted the support of Temne, Loko, and other Limba rulers, but the Soso chief remained unconquered.

Fearing that the French were supporting Karimu’s aggressive campaigns, the colonial authorities in Freetown entered the conflict on Konko Gbaku’s side. Two attempts by British-led forces to dislodge Karimu from his stronghold at Tambi failed. When a third and more powerful force, augmented by the warriors of Bai Bureh, was victorious in 1892, Konko Gbaku was able to turn his attention to the reconstruction of his war-ravaged territory.

For this task he sought assistance from many quarters, notably from the missionaries whom he regarded as a vital link with the colonial authorities in Freetown. The declaration of a British Protectorate over the hinterland of Sierra Leone in 1896 and the hostile reaction which flared up two years later found him deeply involved in his rehabilitation program. As his chiefdom was not strong enough to take part in the wars of resistance, his response to these events was peaceable. He sent protestations of friendship to the colonial administration, which in later years gave him favorable decisions in many boundary disputes with neighboring rulers.

Though an active supporter of the missionaries, it is doubtful whether Konko Gbaku ever became a convert of Christianity. He had many wives, as befitted his chiefly status, and one of his sons, Brima, later became a paramount chief of Tonko Limba. He died in 1911, after a reign of about 25 years.

E. Amadu Turay


Bibliography

D.P. Chalmers,* Report ….on the Insurrection in the Sierra Leone Protectorate, 1898. Part II: Evidence and Documents, London, 1899; J. J. Crooks, *A History of the Colony of Sierra Leone, Western Africa, 2nd ed., Dublin, 1903, reprinted, London, 1972; V.R. Dorjahn and A.S. Tholley, “A Provisional History of the Limba with Special Reference to Tonko Limba Chiefdom,” Sierra Leone Studies, December, 1959; R. Finnegan, A Survey of the Limba People of Northern Sierra Leone, London, 1965; R. Finnegan and D.l. Murray, “Limba Chiefs” in M. Crowder and O. Ikime (eds.), West African Chiefs, Ile-Ife, 1970; Christopher Fyfe, A History of Sierra Leone, London, 1962.


*

This article was reprinted from The Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography (In 20 Volumes). Volume Two: Sierra Leone-Zaire. Ed. L. H. Ofosu-Appiah. New York: Reference Publications Inc., 1979. All rights reserved.